It’s common knowledge these days that adults who are physically active are healthier and at much less risk of developing chronic diseases, no matter what their weight.

But for the millions of Americans who are classified as having obesity and who are sedentary, the thought of beginning an exercise program of any kind can be especially intimidating — and for good reason. For people carrying extra weight, certain exercises may be too painful or physically uncomfortable to perform.

The good news is that there are ways for sedentary people who have obesity to ease into a regular exercise routine so they may enjoy the benefits of fitness and improved health.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least 150 minutes every week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes every week of vigorous exercise. That can be broken down into 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week.

For an overweight beginner, that can seem like a lot. But it’s important that you see this recommendation as a goal to which you can work. If you’re physically unable to complete 30 minutes of exercise this week, do what you can, and build toward 30 minutes daily over time. In fact, three bouts of 10 minutes of exercise a day adds up to the same calorie expenditure as a continuous 30 minutes.

In the beginning, it doesn’t even matter if your exercise sessions are so short that they aren’t contributing significantly to calories burned. All that matters in the beginning is that you’re doing what you’re capable of doing. That’s how to begin preparing your body for longer workout sessions in the future.

You’ll still experience the benefits of fitness if you break those 30 minutes into two or three groups of 10 to 15 minutes throughout the course of the day. When you begin, don’t allow yourself to get hung up on the clock. Instead, focus on picking an activity that you enjoy and that can fit into your schedule at least three to five days a week.

To increase your chances of successfully sticking to your program, try to schedule it for the same time each day, such as in the morning or right after work. The idea is to repeat the behavior until it becomes a habit.

According to the AHA, any kind of physical activity counts as exercise as long as you’re moving your body and burning calories.

One of the best ways to approach this is to try something that you enjoy. You’re far more likely to stick with something if you like what you’re doing, even when it’s challenging. Here are activities you might try to ease into a regular fitness routine.


While the AHA mentions activities like climbing stairs and jogging, one of the easiest and most effective ways to ease into a healthier lifestyle is to begin walking.

Not only is it free, it’s a low-impact exercise that you can do nearly anywhere, inside or out. For people who have morbid obesity, walking may be difficult. But it’s doable with assistance. Even walking slowly will burn additional calories when you’re carrying extra weight, because you’re exerting more energy to move your body.

Water Aerobics

Exercising in the water can have multiple benefits.

Water helps to support your body weight, which makes you feel lighter. It also reduces the impact on your joints, which means that the pain you might feel in your hips or knees from moving on land is virtually nonexistent when you stand in the water.

Consider enrolling in a group fitness class at your local pool. You can also try learning some simple resistance exercises that can be performed in the water.

Stationary Bike

The seated, stationary bike — also known as the recumbent bike — has a backrest that makes it a good choice for people with obesity.

Some people with obesity lack a strong abdominal core, which makes it difficult to sit on an upright stationary bike. Seated bikes are also less stressful on the lower spine, which is a common complaint for people carrying extra weight.

Incorporating both walking and riding the seated stationary bike is a good way to target different muscles in the lower body.

  • Recognize
    that living a healthy lifestyle is a skill and a habit, so approach your goals
    for health and fitness like you would any other new skill you want to master.
    You want to make positive changes to your lifestyle that will last indefinitely
    and that may take some trial and error, as well as commitment.
  • Focus on what
    you’re capable of doing today and don’t become discouraged by focusing on what
    you can’t yet do. As your fitness improves, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at
    the new options that come up for exercise you find enjoyable and challenging.
  • Build a
    support network of friends, family, or coworkers. It’s more fun to work out
    with a friend and you’ll have the benefit of accountability too.
  • Keep track of
    your activities to continue building positive habits.